Archive for June, 2007

30 April; Gosford to Sydney! day 55! A day to remember!

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Up at 0445 hours; quick shower, then wake up Richard next door, then finish packing; final leg after all the planning over last four years; the fulfilment of a dream… unreal, unbelievable, yet happening; taxi at 0545 hours, off to airfield, crunching biscuits from room into mouth- energy throughout day!

0615 hours, totally dark at airfield- Richard wheeling out microlight, me talking to Angie and other microlighters come to shepherd us down the coast in their machines; phone rings- interviews with media in New Zealand, Britain; me standing on own in darkness, connected to world- Britain still yesterday there, living 9 hours day before-NZ two hours later already in brilliant morning sunshine- surreal to stand there in pre-dawn darkness, sandwiched between the past and the future, like some sort of time traveller- surreal thoughts interrupted by  sound of thumping in night air in distance, getting louder- Dick Smith, Australian entrepreneur, likened to Richard Branson, heading up the coast to guide us in- I zip up my suit, go for quick pee behind hangar- my heart thumping, struggling to come to terms with reality that, after a very tiring, taxing yet wonderful 54 days, this is our LAST flight- Sydney, final destination, just 23 miles down coast; no time for more reflection; roaring, chattering sound of Jet Ranger overhead, navigation lights flashing against paling dawn sky above, landing lights on, settling down nearby; Richard warming up the microlight, yelling directions for me to get aboard; I pause a few moments on my own in comparative seclusion of hangar corner  surrounded by the anticipation and heightened awareness that this is another of those rare, rare days in my life, indelibly burned onto my memory forever- the completion of a mission, the fulfilment of a dream cherished and nurtured over many years- the fulfilment of all our planning and focus these last 54 days; we are here, on target, ready for our grand entrance into Sydney via the forbidden harbour route opened up so kindly by Dick Smith, an amazing, amazing, amazing man now hovering above us, settling down amongst the swirling of dust and the chattering of rotors and roar of jet turbine- smell of damp dust and aviation gas pungent in the air around me, mixing with the fragrance of dew-covered trampled weeds and grass and me, in the midst of it all, wanting to capture, to prolong the moment, to hold it and savour it and record it forever- the cold of the aluminium hangar side against me, cocooned in my private world, saying "thank you Lord, for protecting us through all those storms an turbulence and tropical storms… thank you for preserving me to savour and taste and record this moment of isolation alone, not wanting the moment to pass, revelling in the improbability of the moment- am I really just outsideSydney- have we almost done it…I learned, long, long ago, through Jon Cooks advice, that it is not over until we pass the finish line- until the fat lady sings- so I reluctantly shake my head in bemused wonder as I use my white cane to find my way back towards the small group of people talking animatedly as the whine of the Jet Ranger rotors and engine dies away.

A few moments later I am approached by an exuberant, Australian-accented man and I am grabbed in a strong handshake from Dick Smith- a 63 year young man with a heart of gold- one of the world's great visionaries and aviation adventurers who continues to live life to the full.

He made his fortune starting a small electrical company in Australia with his great wife Pip with some Australian $600, and a few years later sold the nation-wide business for $25 million (now turning over a billion a year), and has gone on, as all true entrepreneurs, to continue to found and brilliantly manage other innovative businesses, whilst also undertaking five of the most astounding flights around the world in a variety of aircraft, including becoming the first person to fly a helicopter around the world.

We confirm routes, radio frequencies, and again emphasise the importance of no helicopters getting in front of us- their downward, swirling turbulence one of the most deadly dangers for a small craft like microlight.  We learn that the TV channels, very sensibly, have agreed to share the footage from one chopper instead of four filling the sky, all wanting to be in the same position for those great shots of us flying past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge etc.

Dawn is lightening the sky, so we all head for our aircraft, with me still a bit detached, trying to capture the magic of the moment, that last flight, forever in my mind.

Air soon full of the sound of microlight motors starting up, drowned by the growing whine and then roar of Dick's Jet Ranger powering up nearby; he takes off first, allowing us some few minutes for the vortices in the air to settle before we take off…

Richard and I taxi to the top of the grass runway, with me suddenly realising that, in the emotions of the moment, that I have not yet put on my gloves, secured my helmet or even powered up my navigation system, which I do hurriedly, reminding myself once again that check-lists are what keep pilots alive…

Within moments we are roaring down the runway, with me listening to my ground speed build up before take-off, with my headphones also full of chatter from Dick soaring away and the other microlights radioing their respective positions and take-off sequences.

Within moments I am surrounded by that all too-familiar sound and feel of the wind rushing past us, with dawn breaking all around us as we follow a local river down to the sea, then turn right to follow the coast the last 23 miles to the Heads, entrance to the world famous Sydney Harbour.

Now my heart is thumping a bit, full of anticipation, marvelling at the fact we have been given permission through Dick Smith's influence from the civil aviation authorities to fly into Sydney Harbour- totally out of bounds for all but helicopters usually, who have strict instructions to stay within helicopter air lanes.

We agreed before take-off that we would NOT fly under the Harbour Bridge, as, whilst we would probably get away with it, it would not be fair on Dick, who had vouched for our integrity during the flight.

Within about 20 minutes we are close to the entrance to the Harbour, with the accompanying microlights in formation around us reluctantly peeling off and returning to the airfield.

We bank to the right, now at just 1,000 feet, with my altimeter reminding me of our low altitude.

Increasing engine revs. And pulling the bar hard back we literally plummet down to the requested 500 feet altitude in this area, leaving the TV chopper complaining good-naturedly that they cannot dive at that rate.

We start the magical flight towards the Harbour Bridge in the distance, with Richard describing it to me over our comms. what a wonderful sight it is, now with the sun in the sky producing a glowing, shining radiance on the Opera House and the Bridge through a hole in the clouds, almost like  a spotlight from heaven especially switched on after poor weather, lightening the arena for our final act and flight, all being recorded by the TV chopper above and behind us.

We clear our intention to spend about five/ten minutes flying within the magical arena bordered by the Bridge and the Opera House and the ferry terminals across the harbour, and confirm all helicopters on station and aware of our impending movements.

Then we put our little craft into some of the most intense extreme manoeuvres since the start of the flight, banking at some unbelievable angles according to my instrumentation, as we bank and weave in figure of eights around this breath-taking arena lit up for us in glorious radiant sunshine, with the G-forces forcing us down into our seats.

I just wanted to shout T-I-G-E-R! "over and over again, but this would both deafen Richard and drown out my essential information rushing through my earphones, confirming altitude, compass heading and angle of bank in a maelstrom of platted verbiage, weaving their own magic to swirl around in my mind, somehow detached, yet at the same time appearing totally orderly and normal, harmonising in clear logic and form, singing their own audio picture in vibrant colours, like a harpist playing beautiful music that was emitting and vibrating in visual mathematical harmonies of the laws of physics- airflow, lift, gravity, freedom and joy expressed with pure abandon within the secure embrace of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge- rare and precious playground, loaned to us for a few precious minutes whilst the world passes us by, oblivious that for us it has temporarily stopped…

Probably the above doesn't make much sense to you, but it is an attempt to express the inexpressible- like trying to describe the grandeur and magnificence of a glowing sunset to someone who was not there…

I felt like a dolphin, frolicking and exuberantly expressing it's freedom and joy after the restraints of the preceeding eight weeks.  I was so happy, so intensely happy at that moment, yet knowing how fleeting the moment was, praying that our wing-mounted video camera was working to record the moment for all time.

Few people have ever, ever been given permission to fly in that hallowed and protected air space between the Bridge and the Opera House, and here we were, with the freedom to express the joy and celebration of completing our epic flight…

We reluctantly checked our time, knowing we were scheduled to land at Banks Town airport at 0800 hours, so radio to the hovering helicopters our decision to head towards the airfield, and, with the encouragement from the TV chopper, do a couple of tight, tight turns and diving banks over the magic Olympic Stadium, before finally changing radio frequency from the choppers to the airport frequency, and are given permission to land.

A good landing, no doubt, and then we taxi towards the designated stand on the apron, and Richard informs me there is a large crowd of people there, with big TV cameras standing out amongst the forest of microphones and digital cameras.

As we finally stop and switch off for the last time in 55 days, I take off my helmet with very mixed emotions; we have arrived, and I don't want it to be over!

Within moments we are surrounded by cameramen and reporters shouting for us to look this way and that, and firing a barrage of questions and cameras at us, and we spend the next hour and a half being interviewed and filmed and photographed, in the microlight, in front of the machine, next to it, with Dick Smith congratulating us amidst reporters from all over the world wanting to know all about us and our flight- I am struck that there are at least two Japanese reporters there, requesting meticulous information from us- age not sufficient- full date of birth
required- I add the time of day I was born, but this additional bit of hitherto unknown fact about my life appears unimportant to them.

Interview follows interview, with Catherine Crawford, the PR lady who has coordinated all this so well continually weaving her way between Richard and myself, thrusting her hot mobile phone at us every few minutes for another radio interview.

Finally, after some two hours, the Grand Central Station atmosphere dies down, and I realise it is time to go.

I unzip my flying suit, with it's long zips flowing down each side from neck to ankle, and, balancing against the side of the microlight for support as usual, start pulling my flying boot clear, then suddenly stop, realising it is over, not just another day- the LAST day- we are there!

Joy, exhaustion, jubilation, all temporarily smothered in a blanket of strange regret, so often felt by Jon and I at the end of different expeditions; life is all about the journey, not the destination. We have
arrived- a dream fulfilled, yet I am feeling momentarily almost cheated- no onward microlight flight South tomorrow, but instead a commercial flight North to Manila in the Philippines…

Richard taxi's the microlight to her hangar for the night, to be flown by him tomorrow to Newcastle where it will be packed into a container cocooned, like a chrysalis for her return to England, where, no doubt, she will once again emerge, like a beautiful butterfly, to colour the skies with her magic, enabling thousands of blind children to marvel at her beauty in the process…

Richard returns to where I am standing alone on the empty tarmac, and we pick up all our flying gear, saddle-bags and helmets for the last time together, and head off to speak at a luncheon function arranged by the Standard Chartered Bank in Sydney.

Hectic on arrival, with Jon downloading some latest pictures to use when I speak, with Richard enjoying a much-deserved beer next to us!

David Stileman, Head of Business Development back in Britain has flown up especially from Melbourne to be wth us- thank you so much David, Mervin, Peter, Richard, Joanna, Sophie for your wonderful support throughout…

After speaking there we head off to the TV studios for an interview, followed by numerous radio interviews before being invited to a local English pub nearby for several interviews with BBC TV and radio, enjoying a cold beer and then fielding some five other interviews courtesy of the pub's phone.

Dick Smith and his wife Pip then phoned to invite us for dinner, so, now early evening, with us still not even been to our hotel to dump our kit, tired as zombies but at the same time elated by the completion of our flight, we bundle ourselves into a taxi for the one hour drive to Dick's fabulous home set in isolation outside Sydney, so he doesn't disturb any neighbours taking off and landing his two personal helicopters- his daily transport is his Bell Jet Ranger, hangared under his bedroom, and his bigger Italian twin-jet turbine Augusta Power, the fastest of it's kind in the world  in the nearby hangar.

His other aircraft, ranging from little microlights to a Cessna Citation
CJ3 business jet a bit further afield…

Amidst numerous phone interviews from all over the world we watched the summary of the TV news of us being broadcast around the world by the major channels, and Dick showing us his amazing little moon-buggy looking six-wheel craft he plans to drive to the South Pole, powered by huge solar panels on it's roof that would track the sun.

A great Chinese meal at a nearby restaurant followed, with us being approached and congratulated by people around us whilst I continued to field international interviews.

The day finally ends with a great mug of English tea back at Dicks, whilst he talked over his five major flights around the world, depicted on a massive map of the world in his office.

Finally reach our hotel at around 2300 hours for the first time, very, very tired yet still feeling like I had champagne fizzing through my veins, after our adrenalin-saturated day of 18 hours- one of the longest and shortest in my life, and easily one of the most memorable forever afterwards.

Tuesday 24 April, Darwin, preparing for flight tomorrow across Northern Territory.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Several very early phone calls on both mobile and hotel phone, being interviewed from across Australia to Canada and Britain again; very tiring, being woken up at 0500 hours, but feel it is my responsibility to maximise exposure for Seeing Is Believing to restore sight to the children of the world; a small price to pay, not so?

Richard headed off to prepare microlight; myself and Jon walking into town for light breakfast, haircut for me, getting my wrist-watch battery changed etc.
Lady outside jewellery shop stops me; “Are you that blind pilot man we saw on the TV?” When I admitted this, she laughed delightedly, telling me “I was a bloody stupid blind man, and we are really proud of you!”.

This in the middle of the crowded pavement; it appears her brother is blind, and he is struggling to come to terms with it; not using any speech-output for a computer etc; Everywhere we go, people recognise and congratulate us; man at jewellery shop refuses to take payment for watch for same reason; simply wonderful, humbling hospitality from these great Aussies.

Had a swim in the hotel pool with Jon in the afternoon, after long radio interview being recorded live by a reporter.
Should be writing up my Blogs, not relaxing by pool with a cool beer, but a little voice inside me agreeing with Jon telling me I need a break; thank you little voice- I still feel guilty, falling behind with my  Blogs over last few days, not having my computer with me for weight reduction.This evening taken by |Peter to Tim’s, Darwin’s best steak house, sitting outside with loads of locals around us, verifying Tim’s claim!

Huge steaks here, weighing a kilogram, with accompanying huge salads and bowls of French-fries. Tim says anybody who is unable to finish their steaks have to saddle them up and ride them home!A wonderful, wonderful evening, enjoying more protected ice-cold bottles of beer, great company, and that joi de vivre! Peter explaining that Darwin is like the Northern frontier, with most people coming here either running away from the law or their wives!

Into bed around midnight, still very, very tired, but so, so happy, despite knowing that tomorrow we fly at dawn, with a responsibility to fly some 2,000 miles plus from one end of Australia to the other, so we can be in Sydney in time for the business luncheon organised to welcome us there!

What a wonderful life, hey?!

Monday 23 April; Truscott to Darwin via refuelling in Cunundurra

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Up around 0530 (wonderful sleep in!) great breakfast with chopper crews, with sound of Super Pumas powering away at first light, taking transfer crews to oil rigs far off coast.
Lots of photos around microlight with Truscott crew waving us off; beautiful day!

Took about 2.15 hours to get here; uneventful, apart from Richard often looking down at swampy conditions along coast, identifying lots of huge logs of sea crocodiles; must be crocodiles he assures me; I think I have discovered his greatest unhappiness; ending up in the water, not with sharks, as he always has his trusty container of shard repellent around his neck, but CROCODILES- big, salt-water beasts that cannot be deterred, once on a collision course with our soft, yielding pink flesh!

Hot on the ground as always, but very welcomed by Shelley and Ken, arranging refuelling for us after a quick and very welcome pee. Whilst waiting in heat for fuel truck, feeling thirsty and hot, Shelley comes across tarmac with can of ice-cold Coke for me; huge, huge temptation, only overcome by quickly putting it on floor of microlight for when we reach Darwin, still some five hours flying away.Richard took off one of our extra fuel tanks; now only 3, but plenty fuel for remainder of flight to Darwin; better air flow to oil-cooling radiator with one tank removed.

Spoke to Jon on mobile; him being pressured by Darwin gang of press/media/TV crews, all wanting to get images of us landing in time for evening TV news across Australia; explain will not be easy!

Faker 100 flees in from Perth, just three flying hours away; makes me realise how far we still have to fly to get to Sydney!

Flight to Darwin long, but didn’t seem like five hours, I guess after relief of long sea-crossing just yesterday, and relief of knowing broken back of flight now; lumpy, turbulent conditions most of time; difficult for me keeping on track; Richard doing much of leg. Great reception when touched down at Darwin Airport; ATCA guided us toward-standing by fence, with loads of media excitedly waving and yelling at us, cameras rolling, but Immigration officials escort us to clear formalities before they interview us, with me shouting “TIGER” as we go past them, embarrassing Richard as always!

Once inside cool, air conditioned \immigration/customs area, being interviewed by very nice Australian woman and ever-polite Immigration man, we joined by Quarantine man, with all three hinting that, whilst great flight undertaken by us, not exactly correct procedure followed regarding route into Australia, then flight to Darwin.We explain flight plans submitted and cleared, and talking to Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane officials by phone yesterday; quarantine man worried we may have brought in insects or disease into country from Indonesia; looks at tiny microlight, totally open, and realises no fly could have survived the 70-mph wind scouring every crevice of body during flight, recognising probably superfluous to spray aerosol insecticide “inside” aircraft.

Takes a while for officials to clarify “procedures” we followed flying into the country, and why we didn’t fly direct to Darwin from Truscott without refuelling; finally, all sorted, and we go back out for long TV interviews with media people, representing all major news networks from around world, and we realise the media see it as a major milestone for us to have reached the Australian continent; we start to think so as well!

Great to see Jon Cook again and soon microlight safely hangared in Canadian Helicopter Company hangar, just as it gets dark.

We bump into Magda Buchholz, representing Guide Dogs in Northern Territory, who has been looking for us since mid-afternoon, refusing to leave without her wonderful, heart-felt welcome. We both get a wonderful hug, and are presented with little crocodile souvenirs, much to Richard’s relieved laugh- the only one that got near to him, with me explaining his allergy to her!

We are soon being driven to our hotel by the great CHC manager here, Peter Lymn, explaining it is now the largest helicopter company in the world, with some US$1 million in contracts a month being generated just in this region!

Darwin we realise is small, about 120,000 inhabitants, mad on fishing, with only about four main streets to the town.Peter drops off Richard, Jon and I at our hotel, and we twist his arm to have a couple of beers with us- my introduction to Coopers Pale Ale, one of Australia’s best kept secret from us Pomms, and, even before we dump our gear in our rooms we have several ice-cold bottles together, served in the bottle surrounded by Styrofoam insulators, keeping the beer ice-cold, not warming up on our hands- those Aussies really know how to focus on the important things in life, hey?!The evening finishes with |Peter heading home, refusing our offer for a steak, and us eating great steaks at an outside restaurant down the road- man, it is SO GOOD to be in Australia- we ARE on the home straight now!!!

Sleep quite late, but a very contented little boy!

Sunday 22 April: Cupang Indonesia to Truscott Western

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Up at 04.45 hours; early light breakfast with Richard; me just toast and jam; absolutely no liquid; Richard phoning Darwin 24-hour met. Service for latest update; hotel dining room deserted; head-winds strong between 5,000-10,000 feet, so planning on aiming towards Truscott; if deserted on Sunday, estimate can fly on to Windham only 115 miles further.
Taxi trip to airport comical- helps reduce tension; taxi leaking puncture, so stopping at every opportunity to top up tyre pressure; also buys couple of 1-litre bottles of fuel by vendors on roadside; apparently quite common to buy fuel like this here- we wonder if we will get there! At converted badminton court/hangar difficulty getting microlight out of there; just sufficient headroom with aircraft ariel taken down, then re-assembled; Richard taxis through boundary hedge via dirt road and gate into airport precincts, with me on back of small Honda motorbike ridden by Baggus, our very helpful handling agent here!By 0630 hours on airport area, waiting for fuel truck promised, but long delay!

Put waterproof safety bag around neck, with our mobile phones inside, in case of ditching; Richard similar bag with emergency beacon, sat. nav. and satellite phone.
My batteries in blue-tooth keyboard to input waypoints on my GPS dead, so Baggus buys more; me inputting different map references dictated by Richard; fuel truck arrives; fill up, with us now surrounded by local people eager to see microlight after media coverage; lots of not just men but women and children; lots of requests for us to pose with then/children for photos- our last perhaps? Me crouching, with little 3-year old Henry on my knee, father Johannes airport employee taking picture- great little guy!

Fuel truck man overfills tank; difficult communications; fuel truck nearby, with engine running to provide pumping; man by microlight, filling each of four tanks in turn; difficult to control flow of fuel, being governed by man at fuel truck; lots of shouting between Richard, me and fuel men either side, attempting to limit spillage- evaporates quickly fortunately; fuel everywhere; strong stench of raw av. gas; nobody smoke please!

Finally getting into flying suit; no fleece underneath, due to misunderstanding; hot on ground, now around 0900 hours, so sweating, but knowing may be very cold at altitude; as always, locals loudly commenting to each other about us putting on thick thermal flying suits whilst sweat running down faces; Richard little subdued, keen to get away with no further time delay, as winds increasing all time. Wave at well wishers, shake hands all around, then helmet on, visor down, gloves on, harness secure, boot up, pre-flight checks, then taxiing down towards runway, waiting ATC clearance.  Take off into increasing winds, circling to gain altitude before setting course towards Australia, a continent away… Soon over sea, West Timor and Indonesia fading behind us, with nothing but empty expanse of sea ahead of us. Climbed to 7,500 feet, temperature dropping to 11 Centigrade; me soon feeling cold as sweat stops evaporating, with me trying to zip up suit more tightly.Little conversation between Richard and I, realising head-winds good 30 knots, with ground speed well below our air speed; glad we are not attempting Darwin- would have been a good swim at least!

My navigational kit operating well, with me able to keep on track towards Truscott with little deviation.
Being over the deep blue sea, with no land in sight for some 5 hours, thermals are absent, and relatively smooth flying, as always the case over the sea.  Funny feeling, knowing that, even at this altitude, will be many hours before Richard gets first glimpse of land. Any engine problems means some smart radio work advising ATC, them getting wet! Local ATC advise us to transfer to Brisbane, Australia’s controller of airspace here, but no joy, so we go back to Indonesian Cupang ATC for a while.  Then, wow, Aussie voices as we again tune into Darwin channel; good old Aussie twangs, and European sounding accents for the first time in weeks and weeks!As my headphones only channelled ATC through a single headphone (my guidance kit in the other), I often struggled to interpret their instructions!I was visualising where we were, slowing heading from South-east Asia over the Timor Sea into Australia, understanding how insignificant our little microlight was compared to the vast ocean far below, whilst, at the same time, starting to get more and more excited as I listened to the Aussie voices, realising we were soon to reach our 21st and final country of our flight across the world.

Richard told me we were now flying over a tiny island below, still far off the Australian Coast, where Brian Milton had landed to refuel during his epic flight to Australia many years ago.  He did not have the luxury of a GPS system to pinpoint his destination, but had to rely on fine navigation, with no room for error.  He was guided in by a helicopter crew in the area, and we reflected on that pioneering spirit Brian had, attempting such a massive flight with limited navigational equipment- well done Brian!

We sighted land around 1440 hours, with Richard describing the arid, deserted landscape of Western Australia below us. No joy attempting to raise Truscott on their frequency; sounded like someone had left their channel open. Circled the small airfield, originally a WWII airfield for American bombers fighting the Japanese in nearby Indonesia. Landed 1515 hours on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon, with me stopping shivering at about 2,000 feet as the heat soaked into my cold bones. Nobody around, it appeared; we taxied to outside some hangars and switched off; several Aussie guys sauntered out from nearby buildings, and good-naturedly gathered around us, asking us who we were, and where had we come from!

I was all for a cold Australian beer to welcome us, but I was told in typical Aussie straight-faced/promise on my mothers heart that the placed was dry, with no beer anywhere.
Soon realised they were all highly trained helicopter pilots and technicians, flying huge 18-man Super Puma’s out to the nearby oilrigs under contract. Great to get out of flying suit and stretch legs after 6 hours 15 minutes flying time; no desire to have a pee- not had a drink since 2300 hours the night before- it pays off hey?!

Tim Medhurst, extremely hospitable Station manager saunters over and suggests we phone ATC in Melbourne/Brisbane/Darwin to register our unofficial “illegal” entry into Australia via this airport; we explain all already in our flight plan, with Richard heading off to confirm our safe arrival.

We are offered wonderful accommodation for the night in air-conditioned rooms and offered that magical Aussie can of ice-cold beer- a wonderful welcome, made even more special by meeting a fellow Zimbabwean technician, with us talking our local Shona lingo to each other, swatting buzzing flys from settling around our eyes, nose and mouth, all agreeing it is great it is not yet the fly season!

After a very welcome shower, another beer and some really excellent food, meeting other pilots and crew at the same time, we were given a demonstration of how the Super Puma flys, with Greg, their senior instructor, sitting me in the pilots seat and him behind me, going through the start sequence of the huge Puma, cancelling the whining jet turbines above me before they had reached sufficient revs. To start engaging the massive 35-foot rotor blades above, with one of the slightly anxious technicians looking up at the clearance between the blades and other choppers parked alongside in the huge hangar! Helicopters are definitely still outside my ability to fly, but I think I have got the start sequence memorised now…
By 2200 hours Greg was helping Richard find some maps of Australia and giving us our heading and distances (nearly 300 miles) from there to Darwin tomorrow, with ongoing headwinds to contend with.

Into bed and sleep before 2300 hours; very, very tired, but extremely happy to realise we have done it- now on the home run, so to speak, with the most difficult leg of the flight behind us.

Saturday 21 April Cupang- preparing aircraft for flight to Australia.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Last night Richard confirmed he needed another day to complete servicing/preparing the aircraft for our long flight. We had a funny evening, being interviewed by a journalist who spoke virtually no English, so with an interpreter. Richard, Jon and I in the dining room, with the two others sitting with us. Myself feeling very tired, sitting in smart clean Seeing Is Believing branded T-shirt, but swimming shorts and barefoot beneath table!Waiter repeatedly taking my hand, showing me what glass holds my water, and other for beer; wishing I could just drink the beer unfettered!

Journalist asking Richard via interpreter my date and time of birth- year or basic age not sufficient- Richard pointing at me, saying, “ask him- you can ask him- he can speak”; journalist staring at me, wondering if true- me saying new skill recently developed, after learning how to fly… Jon drinking his beer contentedly, appearing oblivious to repeat of scenario seen so often before!

Richard now passionate, passionate advocate for blind children of the world, quoting figures with conviction; journalist writing, nodding head, then picking up non-digital SLR huge 35mm camera, taking flash pictures of me doing strange things, like sucking my finger after topping up my beer glass from bottle, finger in glass to register when full; another classic shot of me, mouth open, blinking, as about to yawn expansively with exhaustion- surely he will not print these?! Waiter returns, takes my hand, places it around glass of water, explaining quite loudly “this is your glass of water”.  I hold it up in surprise, examining it with both hands, delicately exploring it’s stem and shape before carefully sniffing then sipping the water, then nodding contentedly and thanking him; he strides away importantly, with me quickly gulping down some more beer before he returns again. Another flash picture of me, hand over eyes, rubbing face with tiredness; Richard explaining hand over face not a problem, as I’m blind anyway.Dinner followed later, with journalist declining to eat with us.

Around 0900 hours we all headed out to the airport, after me stripping every ounce of extra weight from my guidance kit/external container etc; Richard adamant only essential weight for long ocean flight to Australia tomorrow. Spent some time in the old converted badminton court where microlight housed by airport boundary, Richard showing me extra fuel tanks and their operation.Left Richard completing flight clearance documentation, took Jon to airport to get his flight to Darwin, weighed down with all our spare kit from the microlight.
; Bit strange shaking his hand and saying cheerio, both of us being somewhat over-casual about parting, yet realising faint chance we would never meet again if things go wrong tomorrow; leaves me quiet and reflective during taxi ride back to hotel.

Early afternoon Richard returns from airport with met. Forecast; not good; strong winds at low levels- slight possibility of slight tail winds over 10,000 feet; looking at likelihood of needing to head for Truscott in Western Australia if conditions bad. Not official entry for international flights, but acceptable if fuel shortages due to strong headwinds force us to divert… We estimate we are about 100 kg overweight- 25% extra nothing to sniff at, but confident microlight rated high above this.Richard phones Darwin for weather forecast for tomorrow; still strong head winds up to 7,000 feet; will try very early departure to make most of dawn lighter conditions…

Richard and I decide to relax by pool and view of rough coastline below; suddenly realise no costumes, as only clothing we stand in for flight tomorrow!  Order couple of beers, spend afternoon quietly talking between pool and rocky beach, discussing Leonardo Da Vinci’s incredible insight into principles of flight. Gets hot, so I strip to underpants by deserted pool and dive in; Richard decides to decline following my example, sitting sipping beer and directing me when disorientated in big pool.Sudden arrival of hoards of school children to swim forces to make hurried exit, with Richard meeting me by poolside with big towel and my T-shirt!

Did two interviews over mobile phone with Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Melbourne and Daily Mail in Britain by pool.Great evening meal in dining room, listening to music from traditional Indonesian instrument called a Sendando, consisting of metal strings surrounding metal down-pipe size of drain pipe, with something resembling palm leaves concertinaed around back to reflect sound; sounds like a Zither, or 12-stringed guitar when strings picked individually- playing unlikely yet lovely tunes like Tennessee Waltz and Country Road- beautiful!

Into bed by around 2300 hours; nothing in room besides clothes taken off and my flight computer; very aware big, big day tomorrow- longest flight of journey in far less than ideal weather conditions.